UC Santa Barbara researcher lead work on enzymes from fungi

June 7, 2017 |

In California, in findings published in the journal Nature Microbiology, researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara and more than 20 co-investigators describe a new complex of enzymes discovered in herbivore gut fungi that may have applications in sustainable fuels and chemicals. The paper is titled “A Parts List for Fungal Cellulosomes Revealed by Comparative Genomics.”

Enzymes are the powerhouses behind biological chemistry, and the fungi discovered by O’Malley’s group — like Anaeromyces robustus (named after the gray whale, partially based on how it looks under the microscope) — have unusual and desirable characteristics, particularly the ability to transform lignocellulose from plants into sugars.

In the unique structure of A. robustus, individual enzymes are arrayed as a kind of large protein mass or scaffold, called a cellulosome, so that they stick to each other and accumulate, somewhat as Legos do. A structure on the enzymes — a dockerin — allows the enzyme to plug into the scaffolding mechanism. The result, O’Malley explained, is that the entire structure “kind of glues the enzymes together for maximum impact to break down the non-food parts of plants.” This process stands in stark contrast to how industry accomplishes the same thing, by relying on free-floating enzyme mixtures to break down biomass.

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Category: Research

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